By day, Oliver Carson is studying business. And by night, he’s running one.
The Chaminade University senior and Hogan Entrepreneurial Program student owns Better Place Brands, whose mission of giving back is baked right into the name. Carson started the business with his father in August 2020, launching a line of private-label coffee brands geared toward animal lovers.
“Customers not only want a great product, but they want the product to stand for something. That’s what this company is all about,” Carson said. “It also feels good to make those donations every quarter.”
Carson’s Better Place Brands has different “companies” named after pets.
There’s the Great Dane Coffee Company. The Golden Retriever Coffee Company. And most recently, Carson launched the Cat Rescue Coffee Company. In all, he has 13 private coffee labels. And each of them donates 20% of the proceeds to charities and rescue shelters located across the United States. Two are located right here in Hawaii—Cat People of Oahu and Lanai Cat Sanctuary.
In 2021, Carson’s companies gave $10,000 in cash and in-kind merchandise to organizations.
“We did better than expected,” he said, adding he hopes to donate even more this year.
‘A really perfect fit’
Carson grew up in a suburb outside of Cleveland and attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School, a Marianist school. As a child, he visited Hawaii several times with his family—and it became a dream to study in the islands. It turned out that dream was much more achievable than he realized.
A basketball coach who used to play at Chaminade chatted with him about the university.
He then learned about the Chaminade Scholars program, which offers up to 75% off tuition to students who are members of a Catholic parish or attend a Catholic or Marianist high school, demonstrate academic excellence, and participate in experiences of service and faith.
Of everything Chaminade had to offer, he was most excited about joining a vibrant community and learning more about Hawaii’s rich cultural traditions. “I grew up in a diverse environment and that has always been something that I’ve been attracted to,” Carson said. “It was a really perfect fit.”
At Chaminade, Carson also found the same values of family spirit, serving others and giving back that he’d embraced at his Marianist high school. “It really felt similar to that tradition I experienced,” he said.
In fact, Carson said he felt a special connection to Chaminade on his very first day in the residence halls. He attended Mass at the Mystical Rose Oratory and met Fr. Marty Solma, SM, who also grew up just outside of Cleveland and attended Villa Angela-St. Joseph High. “It was such a crazy moment,” Carson said.
From there, Carson jumped into life in the islands.
His roommates, who were from Hawaii, showed him the best beaches and taught him how to surf. He became the manager of the basketball team. And, he served as a peer mentor for CUH 100, a welcome course for incoming students.
At the beginning of his junior year, he joined the Hogan Entrepreneurial Program.
Carson said Hogan’s programs and networking opportunities continue to inspire him—and Hogan Program Director Dr. Roy Panzarella has given him the confidence to pursue his own business ventures. “We have been so lucky to hear from entrepreneurs from all over the world doing great things,” he said.
A business that gives back
Carson is busy enough as a student that it’s hard to imagine how he has time to run a business.
At Better Place Brands, he handles everything from customer service to social media. And he’s particularly proud of his business model: Selling a good product while supporting a good cause.
As a Business Administration student, he has been able to use his experience as a business owner for class projects, getting input—and no shortage of encouragement—from his professors and peers along the way. He has also thrived in the School of Business and Communication’s “business for good” approach and believes strongly that everyone has a role in making the world a better place.
After all, he does own a company called Better Place Brands.
Carson is an animal lover himself and started his Great Dane Coffee Company first in honor of his family’s Great Dane. He then partnered with pet rescue organizations, which were able to promote what he was doing—and help him continue to grow and launch more companies along the way.
He said while he’s gearing up for graduate school—he plans to pursue an MBA degree—he’s also looking ahead to expand his business. “We want to continue to add more brands and to eventually grow beyond the dog rescue world,” Carson said. “Our ultimate goal is to do even more good out there—with the help of our customers and the causes they believe in.”